City Hall, May 25, 2010 – At today’s Stated Meeting, the Council will vote on a Department of City Planning rezoning proposal, which will preserve the character and encourage business and affordable housing in Astoria, Queens.

Also, in an effort to increase fire and public safety, the Council will vote on a bill that will increase the minimum civil penalty and criminal fines against unlicensed plumbers and fire suppression contractors. The Council will also vote on two bills that will streamline and modernize the Department of Health’s administrative health code.

The Council will adopt a proposal by the Department of City Planning (DCP), which will rezone 238 blocks in Community Board 1, intended to preserve the scale and character of Astoria.

This would ensure that future residential development will be more consistent with the building patterns of surrounding neighborhoods. The rezoning would encourage new development along some of the neighborhood’s wider streets, commercial corridors and the transit hubs near the N train.

Working with a wide range of stakeholders, including Community Board 1, neighborhood residents and local elected officials, developed a comprehensive planning and rezoning strategy to replace outdated zoning that does not adequately address Astoria’s current and future housing and economic needs. The Inclusionary Housing Program would be applied to provide incentives for the construction or preservation of affordable housing units.

Through numerous community meetings, there was a broad consensus to achieve the following goals:

• Respect and enhance Astoria’s unique character;
• Spur development for residential, business and community activities; and
• Encourage the provision of affordable housing.

“I am thrilled to see the Council voting on this proposal to preserve Astoria, Queens,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “New York City’s character comes from every single one of its neighborhoods across the five boroughs. We are nothing without our diversity and Astoria is a great example of a neighborhood that embraces and encourages so many cultures. Whether it’s walking down Ditmars Boulevard and sampling Greek food or strolling in Astoria Park, Astoria has blossomed into one of the most prized neighborhoods in the City. That’s why this rezoning is pivotal to not only preserve its character but also to ensure that this neighborhood will continue to flourish with new businesses and economic development in the years to come. I want to thank Council Member Peter Vallone for all his work on this.”

“After years of hard work with the Department of City Planning and members of the community, I am very pleased with Astoria’s well-crafted rezoning plan, which addresses the needs of an evolving neighborhood and preserves its unique history,” said Peter F. Vallone Jr., Council Member of District 22nd, covering Astoria. “We have now created an opportunity for homeowners to improve and expand their properties, in scale and context, with the surrounding area while preventing the creation of out-of-character buildings.”

“This is a well-designed plan for Astoria,” said Council Member Mark S. Weprin, Chair of the Zoning Subcommittee. “I commend Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. and the Department of City Planning on putting in the hard work necessary to make this plan a reality.”

“The Astoria rezoning was a detailed, comprehensive and inclusive plan done with full cooperation by Council Member Vallone, City Planning and the Astoria Community,” said Deputy Majority Leader Leroy Comrie, Chair of the Land Use Committee. “They should be proud of their accomplishments.”

Click here for the existing zoning plan, the new zoning plan and landscape shots of out-of-character developments in Astoria.

After several complaints from the public and the industry, the Council will vote on a bill that will increase the minimum civil penalty and criminal fines against unlicensed plumbers and fire suppression contractors. Work that is performed by unlicensed contractors receives no oversight from the Department of Buildings (DOB) or the Fire Department, and if such work is improperly performed, it can endanger property owners and tenants in the buildings in which the work is performed.

The bill will increase first violation fines from $1,000 to $2,500 and second-time fines from $2,500 to $5,000.

“This bill will help deter unlicensed plumbing and fire suppression work by people who are not licensed and qualified to perform such work,” said Council Member Erik Martin Dilan, Chair of Committee on the Housing and Buildings. “The City will be safer because we can go after and penalize those who are offering to do illegal work and prevent them from performing services that can consequently prove to be hazardous and an inconvenience to both tenants and owners,” added Council Member Dilan. “I look forward to the Council passing and the Mayor signing this piece of legislation.”

“Our job is to do everything possible to keep New Yorkers safe,” said Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, Chair of Committee on Fire & Criminal Justice. “This new bill will deter haphazard labor and encourage the highest skilled labor to serve the needs of our City’s tax-payers.”

“Increasing fines for unlicensed building contractors, specifically work done by plumbers, is a necessity,” said Letitia James, Council Member of 35th District in Brooklyn. “Licensing requires years of experience under a licensed master plumber, as well as a passing score on a written exam. Consequently, the word unlicensed often equates to meaning unqualified, and the potential for contaminated water and dangerous fires reinforce the importance of qualified plumbing work. Safety of City residents is top priority for the Council, and all measures should be taken to ensure their protection.”

The Council will also vote on a bill that reauthorizes a reporting requirement on child care in New York City. In 2005, in response to the tragic death of a seven-month old infant at a child care facility hours after a team of inspectors visited the site, the Council passed a local law requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to report on child care facilities and on the activities of its Bureau of Child Care. This law expired in 2008, but the information is still vital.

The new legislation would update the reporting requirement from 2005 with new quarterly reports to the Council and yearly reports posted online. The data required would include the number of:

• Child care programs;
• Inspections of child care programs;
• Complaints received about child care facilities operating without a license; and
• Child care licenses revoked.

“Regular inspections of, and reporting by, child care facilities and programs are a crucial step in protecting children’s physical health and well being,” said Council Member Annabel Palma, Chair of the General Welfare Committee. “Intro 226 is an opportunity to expand and strengthen these vital and important safety nets.”

The Council will also be looking at several revisions to the health section of the administrative code. The bills will eliminate the legal requirement for businesses to obtain certain permits from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. One of the bills, Intro 206, sponsored by Health Committee Chair Arroyo, would remove the requirement for medical records storage facilities to obtain permits. Additionally, the legislation would repeal the obligation to file certain information with an application for a permit to sell or transfer milk or milk products. The Council will also consider another bill, Intro 207, also sponsored by Health Committee Chair Arroyo, which allows sellers of compressed air tanks to meet industry standards, instead of obtaining a permit from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.